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Atlanta chef battles back from cancer by eating fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables

Wednesday, September 18, 2013
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Executive chef and co-owner Steven Satterfield, 43, gathers fresh organic food items from the freezer to prepare meals with at Miller Union restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Executive chef and co-owner Steven Satterfield, 43, gathers fresh organic food items from the freezer to prepare meals with at Miller Union restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

ATLANTA -- Chemotherapy took its toll on Steven Satterfield. The co-owner and executive chef of Miller Union in Atlanta lost his hair, his spunk, and his skin turned grayish-green.

But Satterfield, a local and nationally acclaimed chef, battled back by turning to what he loves and understands well — the health benefits of eating nutrient-dense, fresh, and locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Diagnosed in February 2012 with stage III testicular cancer, Satterfield underwent surgery and three rounds of chemotherapy — one week on, and two weeks off. By day 6 and 7 during the on-weeks, Satterfield, known for boundless energy, was virtually bedridden.

During chemotherapy, Satterfield gave in to weird cravings — like sudden urges for spicy Thai food. But he also satisfied his continuous yearning for carbs by filling up on vegetable-laden pasta dishes and a Gumbo z’Herbes, a green gumbo, traditionally served at Lent and packed with greens — collards, kale, turnip greens and spinach.

The way he nourished his body during his cancer journey helped him get through a tough time and paid off in health.

Just one week after completing chemotherapy in June of last year, Satterfield returned to work at the restaurant full-time. During a recent afternoon, clad in jeans and plaid shirt, and sipping sparkling water, the chef said he believes his vegetable and fruit diet helped him bounce back fast.

Satterfield is part of a growing number of cancer patients paying closer attention to nutrition every step of their journey. It’s no longer considered, “alternative” care according to doctors. Instead, eating a well-thought out diet is playing a more central role in overall care.

Shayna Komar, a registered dietitian who works at the Cancer Wellness center at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, said healthy foods keep the body strong during treatment. Studies show people who are well nourished have shorter hospital stays after surgery compared to those who arrive at the hospital malnourished, she said. Healthy eating also helps wounds heal faster. On the flip side, patients with poor diets including those who lose too much weight during chemotherapy sessions may need to put their treatments on hold.

Dr. Omer Kucuk, professor of hematology-oncology and urology at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, said patients today take more control over their health, researching information online and doing their homework.

He said the anti-cancer properties of a diet full of fruits and vegetables can help prevent disease as well as offer therapeutic benefits while a patient undergoes cancer treatments. He’s seen firsthand how soy and tomatoes help minimize side effects from treatment. So when a prostate cancer patient complains of losing muscle or feeling depressed, he doesn’t immediately think of a pill to make them feel better. He encourages the patient to drink more soy milk — a protein and vitamin rich drink.

Komar encourages a colorful plate with lots of color — reds and greens and yellows, like a rainbow.

She also recommends lean protein such as chicken, fish, nuts, seeds and eggs. And she encourages 5 to 6 mini meals throughout the day which can be easier on the stomach.

Healthy cooking class

Satterfield has teamed up with Komar to teach a healthy cooking class revolving around fresh produce. The summer-time cooking demonstration included a zucchini dish with mint and garlic-chile oil, and a mix of purple and golden heirloom new potatoes with a lemon vinaigrette.

Now 43, Satterfield has been cancer-free for one year. His obsession with the freshest seasonal produce continues to be the centerpiece at his restaurant, which has been featured in national magazines such Food & Wine. The menu includes a cucumber, tomato and blackberry salad along with a griddled pastured chicken with grilled squash, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, mint and almonds.

These days, he’s on the go. He tries to either run before work or bike to work when the weather is nice.

The chef often begins his day with a fruit smoothie made with banana, frozen organic berries and almond milk. From there, he fills up on generous helpings of in-season fruits and vegetables and small amounts of protein ie., organic, humanely raised chicken and fish. He snacks on peaches and almonds. But he still gives into cravings from time to time — whether it’s fried food or ice cream.

“I think it’s all about balance,” he said. “I try to make the most of my day by appreciating the amazing ingredients we get to work with... It’s nice to be able to truly enjoy life and be thankful for what you have.”

 
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